On Negative Reviews

So here’s the thing: I haven’t had a one star review yet. A few lucky people have read my book, and the feedback I’ve had so far is great, but it hasn’t gone out to bloggers, booksellers or reviewers. That will happen soon, and I hope that everyone likes it. Then the book will go on sale in April, and then I pray that the whole world will like it. But the reality is that some people won’t, and that’s ok.

There are books that I’ve hated and other people have loved. There are books that I’ve adored with all my heart that some people haven’t been able to read to the end. This happens, because books are as different as people, and no matter how hard you try, you just can’t like everyone. And everyone can’t always like you. I have absolutely no doubt that one day in the relatively near future I’m going to have a look on Goodreads (I use it to chronicle my own reading, so I’m not likely going to give it up once I’m published) and I’ll have a one star review. And you know what? I’m going to be a bit upset. I don’t think I’ll cry or anything, but it might put me in a mood for a few hours. And then I’ll get over it and move on. Knowing me, I’ll probably make a joke about it to a family member or something. I certainly won’t publicly admit that I know about this review, because that would be unprofessional. As far as twitter and Facebook is concerned, I’ll be pretending that it hasn’t happened. If the review is by someone who I really admire and respect, I may pay a bit of attention to it and take notes for next time, but on the whole, everything will be fine. I’ll be fine.
I think we all know what I’m referring to here. Over the weekend it transpired that a debut author managed to track down and stalk a negative reviewer, and the story was printed up in the Guardian online. I don’t want to go into the specifics of that article (you can read it here) but what has concerned me since is the number of young bloggers who have come out to say that they’re now scared about what this means for blogging in the future. Are any authors going to hunt them down if they give a bad review? Is it still safe to voice an opinion? So what I want to do right here, right now, is tell all those bloggers that what they do is absolutely fine, and that they should continue doing what they do for as long as they want to. These kind of incidents are rare, and when they happen, they are definitely not the bloggers’ fault.
I blogged about books for a time, as a side project to my work as a bookseller. It was fun. I like being analytical about what I read, and examining books from this angle helped me with my own writing. I learnt about what I like, and what I don’t, and most importantly, I was able to articulate these opinions with insight and thought. When I got my book deal, I decided that it was time to end the blogging on books, mostly because I had to acknowledge that my position in the profession had changed. I was now a player in the game, and I didn’t want to put myself in a position where I might create awkwardness among the other players with my views. Now, if I don’t like a book, I’ll either remove it from my Goodreads shelf, not review it, or choose not to give it a star rating at all. I certainly won’t publicly talk about not liking it. (For those of you now going through my Goodreads shelves looking for books I haven’t commented on as an indication of what I’ve disliked, I’m afraid that I’m not very consistent. Sometimes I’ll love a book, but not review it because I’m just too busy!) I like telling people what I’m reading, and I don’t want to stop doing that.
I’m very lucky to have an agent who has offered me great professional guidance on how to behave online. I try not to be unhappy on twitter, or put voice to my anxieties or worries. Having learnt some harsh lessons in the past, I aim to keep my online persona professional and upbeat. I try and keep the crazy to myself, although it does leak out from time to time.
The thing about book bloggers, is that you guys are nice people. You have to be. My logic is thus: you are often young, either blogging between homework stints or exam revision, or if you’re older, you’re doing it after work or on your lunch break. You don’t have to be blogging in your spare time, but you do, for no money. Even if you’re just in it to get your hands on free books, that’s still ok, because people who do stuff just to get free books are more likely than not going to be nice people. Let’s put it this way: you don’t go into book blogging because you’re a dumb, shallow, vindictive so-and-so. You’re nice, and probably pretty intelligent to boot. But just because you’re nice doesn’t mean that you have to be nice about every book. You can have whatever opinion you want. You deserve to have your opinion, because this is your hobby, that you have chosen to give up your time for, for no other benefit or reward. In my experience book people are nearly always nice people. It’s as simple as that.
Here’s another thing: a great lesson I learnt early on in my Creative Writing MA is that not everybody will be your reader. When you’re doing any Creative Writing course, a common feature of it will probably be sharing your work for workshopping. You’re gonna hear some tough stuff on a workshop. They can get pretty intense. But you learn to deal with it, because that’s one of the things you’re there to learn. You also learn that not everybody else’s opinions necessarily matter. That guy who writes dark literary detective noir fiction may not be the best person to judge your wily battle princess fantasy epic. He can criticise and be constructive all he likes, and you’ll listen and be polite about it, but you’ll keep at the back of your mind that his opinion may not be the best one to pay the most attention to. This is what we have to do with bloggers. For some of you out there, stories about YA superheroes with everyday problems just aren’t going to be your thing. And I’ll say it once again: THAT’S OK.
Seriously. If you’re a young blogger and you are feeling worried about putting personal information out there, talking to an author online, or giving your address to a publisher, please don’t be. We need you guys to keep our feet on the ground. We need you guys to get excited about books and tell your friends. We need you guys to entertain each other and us, and to keep buzz circulating, and to inspire your peers. We’re all part of the same community, and if your reviews, positive or negative, convince just one other person to read our books, then that’s all we can ever hope for. You may not all be my reader, but you’re definitely somebody else’s, and that’s all that matters.
And if you are ever concerned about an author’s behaviour, then please tell their publisher. Their editor, publicist or agent should be able to have a quiet word with them, out of the public sphere, and will no doubt keep your identity anonymous if you ask for it. This is the professional thing to do, and I’d guess that any author who goes trippy and starts doing weird things, hasn’t got a particularly good network supporting them and their career. But this is not your fault. It never is.
Thank you for sticking with this slightly rambling blog post, but I really wanted to get my thoughts out there. Never stop being lovely people, with all your opinions, no matter what they are.